If I had to chose one word to describe Medellin, it would be community. Though once one of the more dangerous places in the world, Medellin nows has an intimate feeling to it, an intimacy that is especially felt at rush hour on Colombia’s only metro. Nearly every day I spent in Medillin, it rained. But everyday had it’s time in the sun, as well. The buildings and the street-art are colorful and expressive, and the community of expats and digital nomads I found in Medellin made the world feel a little smaller for awhile.
1. getting around and knowing where to be
I stay in the International House Medellin because it was cheap and I fell in love with covered rooftop. Medellin is a sprawling city in the mountains, however, getting around is fairy easy.
Medellin is the only city in Colombia that has a train system. It has several cable car systems that clamber up the steep inclines toward the colorful villages in the mountains. Bus systems and collectivos fill in the space between. Getting a Civica card is free and easy enough, though there is a line to receive such a thing. You can pay per ride, of course, but you save money at the end of the day with a transit card.
For better information on getting a Civica card, see this Calazan.com article: How to obtain a Civica metro card in Medellin, Colombia.
Areas you might be interested in:
- Laureles–more of a local vibe
- El Pobaldo–the parties and most international crowd… you will probably end up here at some point in time to drink or eat or dance the night away.
- I’d advised against staying in Centro; I’ve been told by several locals that it’s not safe after 8pm
2. where to learn spanish
I’m not saying I can speak, understand or read Spanish, I’m just saying that I found institution that have helped others in Medellin and that tried to help me.
Graffiti in Comuna 13
3. explore the world of art in things medellin
In light of the violent past of Medellin and Colombia as a country, the people responded with art. Whether it’s street performers, graffiti, statues in the square or museums, the people of Medellin have used art as a way to take control of their lives.
- Museo de Antique– notice the status outside by Colombia’s own Fernando Botero
- Museo de Memory
- Museo de Moderno
- Communal 13 and Casa Kolacho–I suggest going with the graffiti tour run through Toucan Tours
4. embrace the natural beauty around the city
Medellin is surrounded by the mountains of a great rainforest. It rains a bit everyday and the heat can be suffocating. If you got to Medellin and miss the natural beauty that surround it–which is unlikely, but still–you are missing out.
Easy way to engage nature within the city:
- Ride the cable cars up the mountains
- Explore Parque Avi
- Visit the Botanical Garden
- Go paragliding from San Felix. It’s a cheap Uber ride there; catch the bus back to Norte Bus Station
The Botanical Gardens in Medellin
7. watch football/ soccer
When one of the Medellin teams is playing, it’s common to find bars and cafes ready to host fans. Sitting outside a small liquor store watching the game is just as much a cultural experience as going to an actual match! Tickets, I hear, are pretty affordable, like $40 USD.
The two Medellin teams are:
For more about watching football in Medellin: Football in Medellin: My Colombian Soccer Experience
6. play the real national sport
The national sport is tejo, the game involving explosives that Anthony Bourdain played during is time in Colombia with ‘Parts Unknown’. Tejo Medellin hosts tours for 30,000 COP. The game, so I’m told, began with throwing gold pieces and trying to hit other pieces of gold on the ground. But European greed replaced this gold with rocks and explosives.
Tejo is the national sport of Colombia
8. visit gautape
Medellin, amazingly enough, is 100% powered by hydroelectricity from the man-made lake district at Gautape. This is a sensitive subject in the area because entire villages where uprooted and moved so the government would flood Gautape and create a source for their hydroelectric power. At Gautape, you can play paint ball at one of Pablo Escobar’s houses, take a boat-cruise on the lake and climb “Piedra del Peñol.”
Gautape is about 2 hours outside of Medellin.
Read other, better blogs about Gautape:
- Hello Kalina’s article about visiting Gautape in a hippie van
- Jesse on a Journey’s photo journal of Gautape
- Roamaroo’s article about Gautape, Colombia
Me on top of the rock at Gautape, Colombia
9. visit jardin
Jardin is known for it’s brightly painted houses. With beautiful flowers, fountains and colonial buildings, it’s worth a stop and some time exploring. Jardin is about 4 hours away from Medellin.
To read more about Jardin, see Miss Tourist’s article, Jarin the most beautiful pueblo in Colombia.
10. hike the cocora valley near salento
Even though I didn’t go to Salento myself, I’m including it in my list because it should be included in every trip to Medellin. Nearly 5 hours away, the trip is not a convenient one BUT I deeply regret not going. The pictures I have seen and stories I have heard from friends makes me green with jealously. Just visiting this area vicariously through others make me humble in the face of Mother Nature. Cocora valley is part of the Parque Nacional Natural de Los Levados. Other than hiking, visitors can bird watch, mountain bike, ride horses, raft, charter scenic flights and swim in the mountain rivers.
Here are some of those envy-worthy travel blogs about Salento:
- Goats on the Road’s article, Relaxing in Salento: a highlight of Colombia’s coffee region
- Two Wandering Sole’s guide to Salento: a town with coffee, culture and charm
- Just a Pack’s article, Exploring small-town Colombia: things to do in Salento
- Colombia Travel Blog’s Top 5 things to do in Salento
- The Backpacker Diary’s article, 9 things to do in Salento, Colombia
A cocoa fruit outside of Medellin
11. visit a coffee and/or a cocoa farm
Through Toucan Tours I visited a Coffee farm and a Chocolate farm. Both experiences were fantastic. We ventured outside of Medellin, into the expanse of the colorful rainforest and met with local families as they walked and talked us through the farming process and how their local industry works.
A coffee farmer telling us about the wash technique.
12. have some traditional colombian food explained
Restaurante Hacienda is bit of a tourist stop, but I recommend it none-the-less. It’s in Centro surrounded by shops and colonial buildings. The menu comes in different languages and explains Colombian food, traditional and ingredients. Though touristy, it’s a good spring-board for Colombian cuisine.
13. don’t be afriad of itaca
There isn’t much to Itaca. If there were ever to be a time to use “hole-in-the-wall” it would be describing this place. There’s no menu and no room to turn around. The meats are barbecued on the sidewalk and the seating was outside at plastic tables and chairs. I stumbled through my order, just saying si to anything that I thought sounds like “all the meats” and wasn’t disappointed by the result. It was a little bit of an adventure.
14. find the digital nomad community and drink lots of delicious coffee
I chose Medellin as a travel location because of its reputation as a digital nomad hub. Even if you aren’t traveling and working, you can still benefit from the ex-pat life style that has pushed it’s way through the crack on the pavement. I especially recommend El Pobaldo!
My favorite cafes:
15. don’t pay too much getting to or from the airport
Getting to the airport from Medellin is expensive, so if you cab/ Uber, try to find a buddy. If you have the time and patience, there is a bus from El Poblado to the airport that is considerably cheaper.
Other things to notes at the airport: in the domestic terminal, wifi is strongest at the Burger King right after security. And you should get a cookie from The Cookie Jar. You’re welcome.
- Three things you should do in Salento by TrekSnappy
- Find where Pablo Escobar was Killed
- Best Bars and Restaurants in Medellin according to Conde Nast Traveller
- 6 Cafes in Medellin that make the perfect workspace from Have Compass Will Travel
- Facebook Group: Women Entrepreneurs of Medellin
- Facebook Group: Digital Nomads Medellin
- Facebook Group” Medellin Expats